Rafat Ali: Founder, PAIDCONTENT.ORG
Ali stumbled his way into position as the global guru of paid editorial content online, but he’s using his entrepreneurial verve and journalistic training to make the most of the opportunity.
Rafat Ali is a journalist who has moved from accidental entrepreneur to Internet trailblazer in the space of a couple of years. His site, PaidContent.org, may be the hippest and hottest covering the media industry, displaying both his raw reporting skills as well as a sharp yet palatable point of view.
It has grown to 1.5 million page views a month, with an RSS news feed to about 15,000 people and 25,000 subscribers to an e-mail newsletter. Major advertisers range from software companies to media-investment banks. Revenues quintupled last year and, Ali says, should "touch the low single-digit millions this year."
The key, Ali says, is that PaidContent.org is unique;and has embraced its uniqueness. "We’re tracking an industry that no one else is," says the 31-year-old native of India. "People are reporting on various pieces of it, but no one is putting it together like we are. Typically, the parts of the medium stay discrete;newspaper people never talk to mobile people or to b-to-b information people. My view is that it’s all digital and has to be tracked simultaneously.
"The packaging and energy we put into our coverage also shows," Ali continues. "That’s what’s addictive about our site. The voice part matters. We put enough voice into it, but not too much to be off-putting. We don’t have any agendas."
Ali worked for Inside.com until it failed in October 2001, then migrated to the Silicon Alley Reporter. On the side, he started the PaidContent.org site as a blog and newsletter in 2002 and became a full-time entrepreneur in early 2003.
"I figured that the advertising industry online at that point seemed to be drying up, and people were looking at subscription sites and premium newsletters," says Ali, who now is located in Santa Monica, Calif. "So I decided to track the trend."
VITAL STATS: The Web site has exploded in popularity, rising to 1.5 million page views a month and 25,000 newsletter subscribers.